It is a big night in Ulster Bank League Division 1B as Limerick giants Shannon and Garryowen go head to head at Thomond Park, while Saturday’s headline act is the capital clash of fourth-placed Dublin University and current leaders Galwegians.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, December 20
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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SHANNON (8th) v GARRYOWEN (3rd), Thomond Park, Friday, December 19, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Shannon: LLLWLLWLW; Garryowen: WLWWLWWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Tadhg Bennett 52; Tries: John Shine 3; Garryowen: Points: Jamie Gavin 73; Tries: Alex Wootton 4
Preview: Shannon climbed to eighth spot after Tadhg Bennett kicked them past Malone, and they now top Division 1B’s pre-Christmas bill by hosting fierce rivals Garryowen under the Thomond Park floodlights.
Shannon endured a disappointing 21-3 opening round defeat to Garryowen, leaking tries to Shane Buckley, Neil Cronin and Ed Rossiter. Try-scoring bonus points have been hard to come by – these two Limerick giants have just one each from the opening nine rounds.
The Light Blues picked up a losing bonus point against Galwegians despite having full-back Alex Wootton sent-off. Completing a league double over Shannon would set them up nicely for next week’s Munster Senior Cup final against Cork Con.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, March 29, 2013: Shannon 16 Garryowen 12, Thomond Park; Friday, September 12, 2014: Garryowen 21 Shannon 3, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (4th) v GALWEGIANS (1st), College Park, 2pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Dublin University: LLLWWWDWW; Galwegians: WWWWLWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dublin University: Points: Jack McDermott 67; Tries: Conor Kearns 4; Galwegians: Points: Matt Dever 25; Tries: Matt Dever 5
Preview: A cracking contest in prospect as two of the division’s in-form teams meet in the capital. It may be fourth hosting first, but 14 points separate them in the table.
Leaders Galwegians edged out Garryowen last time out and their squad depth can been seen by their spread of scorers, with prop Doron McHugh and lock Marty Cummins popping up with important tries.
Since College Park reopened in October, Dublin University have embarked on a six-match unbeaten run. ‘Wegians should prove too strong, but watch out for backs Conor Kearns (4 tries) and Jack McDermott (67 points) who are Trinity’s top scorers.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, September 13, 2014: Galwegians 25 Dublin University 17, Crowley Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win
BELFAST HARLEQUINS (10th) v UL BOHEMIANS (6th), Deramore Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Belfast Harlequins: LLWLWLLLL; UL Bohemians: WWLLLLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Belfast Harlequins: Points: Eamon Lane 46; Tries: Sean Reidy, David McMaster 3 each; UL Bohemians: Points: Shane Airey 78; Tries: Ed Kelly, Ian Condell, Rory White 2 each
Preview: UL Bohemians finally put a stop to their wretched run of form when winning 14-12 away to Corinthians – it was their first league victory since September.
Bohs out-half Shane Airey is now the top points scorer across Division 1A and 1B with 78 points, his efforts helping the Limerick men move back up to sixth place.
Bottom side Harlequins will feel they owe UL one after a last-gasp try denied them victory on Thomond Park’s back pitch in September. A hard one to call, but home advantage may just do it for Adam Larkin’s ‘Quins.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 1, 2014: Belfast Harlequins 20 UL Bohemians 0, Deramore Park; Saturday, September 13, 2014: UL Bohemians 22 Belfast Harlequins 19, Thomond Park back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Belfast Harlequins to win
CORINTHIANS (9th) v BALLYMENA (2nd), Corinthian Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Corinthians: LWLLWLWLL; Ballymena: WWWWWLLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Corinthians: Points: Conor Murphy 34; Tries: Eoghan Masterson, Conor Murphy 3 each; Ballymena: Points: Tim Small 54; Tries: Tim Small, Sean Taylor 5 each
Preview: Hard to look past another Ballymena win here, especially as Andy Graham’s men seem to have improved since their opening day 20-0 defeat of Corinthians at Eaton Park.
Corinthians are also more fluid in their play these days, but Pat Cunningham’s charges have struggled for results – notably, they have lost three of their last four home games.
The key for the Galway men is to quell the influence of Ballymena’s back-three and their back row. Full-back Sean Taylor scored his fifth try of the campaign against Buccs, while Stephen Mulholland continues to set the standard for other back rowers in the division.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, September 13, 2014: Ballymena 20 Corinthians 0, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
BUCCANEERS (5th) v MALONE (7th), Dubarry Park, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Buccaneers: LWWLLWDWL; Malone: WLLLWWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 57; Tries: Jacob Walshe 4; Malone: Points: Josh Pentland 72; Tries: Rory Campbell 4
Preview: The move to a Saturday night floodlit fixture may just inspire Buccaneers to get back on track after a frustrating 23-8 loss to second-placed Ballymena.
They host another Ulster club here, as Malone make the trip to the midlands desperate to end their three-match losing streak which has seen them slide to seventh place in the table. They will want to rekindle the form which saw them dispatch Buccs 29-11 in the opening round.
Buccs’ tails should be up after they won the Connacht Senior Cup last week for the first time since 2007, while Malone will be keen to bounce back from their Ulster Senior Cup final reversal to Ballynahinch.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 1, 2014: Malone 13 Buccaneers 8, Gibson Park; Saturday, September 13, 2014: Malone 29 Buccaneers 11, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win